God and his Presbyterian/Methodist medium were my first undoing.
How to reconcile the propaganda about a god of love with the hate-full reality?
“Onward Christian soldiers marching unto war with the cross of Jesus….”
I continued taking on the outer shell of his teachings every Sunday with the family at church and even taught Sunday School afterwards (I liked the stories and especially the angels). I won a national Bible quiz with prize money of 50 pounds and scored my picture on the front page of the Otago Daily Times. (photo withheld, haha)
However while I swallowed and digested the outer coating of the pill of puritanical Protestantism, I found the inner hollow more and more unpalatable.
I never did learn how religion could become an opiate, although as Karl Marx so famously remarked, so many others have.
The gothic stone of the First Church, Knox Church and other civic buildings presented an unchanging cold and claustrophobic façade that represented perfectly the culture this Christianity bred.
|First Church. Dunedin|
I remember playing Jezebel once at the age of nine in a church play in the bowels of the First Church.
Maybe because I had red hair I was chosen for the part, but certainly an unconsciously perfect symbolic fit with me and religion I guess.
|Jezebel eaten by dogs|
I still mourn that poor woman’s fate at the hands of religious fathers of the time. Through all the high drama generated in the church play, I still remember feeling how unfair it all was and what a great woman this queen had been.
Somehow the religious propaganda being shovelled down just didn’t stick.
Otago Girls’ High School provided me with an education that taught me heaps about authoritarianism and totalitarianism. The content of the education was mostly how to make “ladies” and good “colonials” of us. The methods employed to convey patriarchy and imperialism were appalling and often downright silly.
Our Latin teacher used to stand at the front of a classroom of 30 odd girls and beat out with her rod on the desk, the declensions we must learn by rote.
My embroidery teacher ridiculed my choices of colour for my tea tray cloth (“pink and purple do not go together you foolish girl!”) The principal used sarcasm as her principle weapon to keep us in line.
I loathed school, its uniforms and hierarchies, but like the army, I bonded in friendship with fellow foot soldiers for life.
The puritanical underpinnings of parental and societal attitudes were laid bare as I discovered the lot of an unmarried mother who must carry the traditional ignominy and guilt of sexuality like a badge for all to see and shame.
Emotional cruelty to a young 17-year-old girl-woman was commonplace from most including my own mother, the doctor, (“slut” is what he called me during an examination) - and really any kind of authority I bumped into during that time. I learned the hard way about the people who ruled my life, but also found the kindness of strangers and the camaraderie of friends.
Then I discovered Simone de Beauvoir, Shulamith Firestone, the New York Redstockings and the great, great joys of so many hundreds of female and male writers, activists, politicos, friends, who taught me how to think about power, observe and understand its myriad forms in the personal and political. I grew into who I am today; someone who still has a deeply problematical relationship with authority and authorities.
I would like to think I have learned as well, how to become more like Diogenes who when asked by Alexander the Great who had come to visit him, told the great conqueror of the known world, to “step out of my sunlight”.
I take particular umbrage with religion. Religion is an institutionalized authority system that has conquered and warped the world.
The practice of monotheism (worship of one god) has set itself up as a moral, theological and economic authority for too long.
Its central idea has a supreme being as an entity distinct from the world (Nature) but controlling it according to plan, while keeping humans in a state of infantile subjection.
This idea has given rise to many horrible forms of social control that have been – and are practiced - with great effectiveness.
“Religion legitimates so effectively because it relates the precarious reality constructions of empirical societies with ultimate reality.” Peter Berger.
Enforcement of sexual hierarchy is one of its many deep injustices that under its auspices have been enforced and perpetuated around the globe and throughout history.
“Wives submit yourselves unto your husbands…. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church”.
The great, late Christopher Hitchens once epitomised the only reasonable attitude possible in today's world when he said:
"Mockery of Religion is one of the most essential things ... one of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority."
I am the first to admit that my ideas have a profound emotional investment underlying them.
I suspect the buried reason for such strong feelings behind my rational antipathy of Christianity in particular, is the horror-filled family history I bear in my genes. The family branch with which I most identify, has come from Huguenot stock who were driven out of France into Scotland and England, during one of the many Catholic Holocausts.
|St Bartholomew's massacre|
Religious persecution by Christian authorities has a bottomless tap root in Europe.
And I’m a Kiwi who is lucky enough to live in a so-called secular country, downunder far from the ongoing war-torn religious tyrannies that are alive and well.
If they were of the ruling and middle classes, they were often impelled by their greed for land-sharking and/or saving souls.
“Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”
1 Samuel 15:23
John Knox composed a “First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.”
The history of my family as well as of other ordinary folk, makes me mad with grief and outrage.
So if my ideas are fuelled by these feelings does this make the ideas bad ones? In my experience, objectivity is often another name for arrogant gatekeeping of mainstream claptrap.
Unless we learn to temper with subjectivity what passes for objectivity, and begin to reason with honest feeling, we can never get to the heart of things.
Everyone has a subjective bias especially round issues to do with authority and religion. I’ve told you mine; what is yours? Before we argue the ideas, lay your bias down on the table of consciousness, or else your ideas are poisoned by unconscious prejudice and not worth the argument.
Consider your own imprinting by the powers of religion, especially through what you learned early from your own family.
There is a high percentage of transmission of religious momentum across generations. Research in America has found that religious similarity between parents and their children was not that much different in 1970 than in 2005.
So consider your own “god gene” – what have you soaked up from your family’s influence? It makes a big difference as to what you think you think about gods and wo/men. Don’t let that thinking be ruled by unconscious bigotry.
The prevailing ethos among the liberals in this historical time and culture is that we must be tolerant of religious belief. Everyone apparently has the right to worship and practice their religion of choice. If anyone mocks or desecrates another’s god or gods there’s hell to pay.
However in Aotearoa, we are very selective about our practice of this tolerance. It is only very recently that Maori cultural and spiritual practices have been recognised - at least in lip service - as needing (grudging) space in our public arenas. This has been enormously helped by the fact that mainstream Māori have been thoroughly converted to a broadly Christian viewpoint.
Any “New Age” practices will be righteously mocked as a matter of course, as part of the “loonie left”. And what on earth are we meant to make of the burkha of new immigrants?
We look askance at Europe where the Charlie Hebdo massacre left many Kiwis wondering just how far those victims of reactionary violence should have gone in the name of “free speech”.
As for those who practice jihad – goodness gracious me they’re obviously raving lunatics.
And what about those extremist Femen women who protest topless, in true punk fashion, inside the Notre Dame cathedral against the authority of the Christian church?
|Femen in Notre Dame, Paris|
The doctrine of a supreme and only masculine god breeds and infects its followers with extreme forms of intolerance to any other belief systems, with a default button of compulsion for conversion.
Their ideologies and their patriarchal practitioners, have been responsible for untold human suffering, environmental degradation and political upheavals.
War, famine, murder, torture, rape and pillage have been carried out over and over again, in the name of “the one true and only god”.
I see no reason at all to uphold this ridiculous notion of the “god-given” right to worship a belief system that is so obviously pro- a tiny elite - and violently anti woman, anti-human and anti-life.
I can uphold the right for an individual to worship any old ideology in the privacy of one’s own home. But with the caveat that there is no public funding to go into that worship and certainly no societal support – financial or otherwise – for propagating it to children or vulnerable citizens such as those who are desperately poor and uneducated. Why can’t we treat religion a wee bit like we treat sex at the moment – it’s ok for consenting adults to do it in private, but not in public spaces.
I have my guns on the Jewish and Muslim beliefs as much as Christianity because they all maintain there is one male god, and are totally hierarchical and totalitarian in their practices. However here I shall focus now on Christianity, for I know its political history, its belief systems and can cite scripture as well as the Devil.
Christianity is embedded into all the structures and institutions of our modern so-called secular society.
For example, our government with the public’s purse, funds private schools run by Christians, depriving our secular public education system. Churches are granted massive tax breaks by being categorised as “charities”. Churches are allowed to spread their ideologies to children, force- feeding propaganda into vulnerable minds, as a time-honoured way of sustaining their idiotic beliefs and practices.
Idiotic beliefs? Here are a few of my pet hates about Christianity’s ideas.
Christianity posits that there is one god who manifests in 3 masculine guises, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost (which is a kind of breath, shaped in the form of a dove, but a definitely masculine dove.)
|Artist: Jasmine Worth|
The only woman who gets a look into the pantheon is a Virgin Mother who in the Catholic texts gets to be an intermediary between the god and the human because she experienced so much sorrow in losing her son (who was sacrificed by his father who wasn’t her husband, but there you go)
So this father god evolved from the Jewish Jehovah who was a scarey, angry god. This supreme being - a sky god - obviously appreciated and condoned rape, pillage, genocide, fathers sleeping with their daughters, murdering their sons and any kind of despoliation of the planet, you can imagine if you care to read even a little of the Christian’s Old Testament.
Try for starters, the story about the Walls of Jericho tumbling down… I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t got onto that one yet.
Joshua 6: 1- 27 “ And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, the ox and the sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword….. So the Lord was with Joshua; and his fame was noised throughout all the country.” Genocide is the only word for this kind of hate-fuelled religious massacre, but the Lord approved of good old Joshua.
The ongoing Middle Eastern “god-forsaken” wars are so clearly motivated by both sides believing their god is on their side. In the West, even when state and church are not fused in the same way that happens in many Muslim nations today, this was/is the common practice.
The First World War was fought “For God, King and Country”
The present crisis in Iraq can be laid directly at the door of the policies of American Presidents Bush senior and junior, who both believed that their god was on their side. This, of course justified their right to lie to their public and bomb the daylights out of that old civilisation, because they wanted their oil.
War is an inevitable outcome out of the monotheistic viewpoint that my god is the only god, and if you don’t worship my god you are my enemy.
One of the interesting – and foul - things about Christianity’s ideology is that it believes only humans have souls. (Only recently were women decreed that they too had souls like men). So in Christian belief, the rest of “god’s creation” – all of the sentient animal world, not to mention the insects, the plants, the beautiful blue world of Planet Earth - is not ensouled.
If the world is inanimate (anima means the soul or spirit of life) – if the world is dead - it doesn’t matter what we do to it, because only man is made in the image of god. And if we – or at least Christian humans - are gods, then we can do as we damn well please with the rest of nature, of which we are thankfully not part of, and in fact higher than.
This idea that nature is “inanimate’ with (Christian) humans at the top of the non-souled tree, gives men license to rape and ransack our Mother Earth – anything really can be justified that furthers men’s self- interest. Capitalism is an especially convenient economic system that works hand-in-glove with Christianity in this respect.
|The Hunter and her dead prey|
As examples, I cite such things as whale hunting, or in fact the casual slaughter and mistreatment of any beast we care to name. Working sustainably and co-operatively with the rest of nature, does not fit with this ideology. In fact, the ideology justifies the plunder of forests, the burning of bush for farmlands and the pollution of waterways for financial profit.
Historically Christians, without endangering their spiritual mana, have murdered indigenous peoples who are little better than beasts after all, with impunity. Conversion to Christianity has always been a tool by which Empire has expanded, but the theft of land and resources from non-Christian natives has always taken precedence over potential lost souls.
Soldiers and missionaries consistently paved the way for the Christian, capitalist settlers.
Their breath-taking arrogance has been fuelled by the convenient idea that they sit above the land and its indigenous inhabitants as they ascend the great ladder to white man’s heaven.
Women specially carry this burden of dirty bodies. Only women bleed - its monthly and its filthy!
The male body can be worshipped in certain ways (the tortured man on the cross is made into art over and over again).
|Mother Hubbard dresses replaced trad bare-breasts in Vanuatu|
Women’s bodies, unless they are thoroughly clothed and hidden - are temptation incarnate. We are shameless hussies, whores – who seduce men by flaunting our sexuality (“it was her fault I raped her she was wearing a mini-skirt”).
Male control of the female body seems essential under this prevailing view. Male authorities must and should control the means to the birthing process by medicalisation of birth, abortion by criminal law, domestic violence by intimidation, rape in war and peace.
The terrible consequences of separating out the material world of flesh and nature from the spiritual world of mind and soul, have been devastating in the suffering and the tortured sexual mores of the Western world.
We have been encouraged to separate out from our bodies as if the mind, emotions and soul were quite distinct entities from the material body they inhabit.
The double whammy of the equation of the material ‘body” being gendered and designated ‘feminine” and the spirit being essentially “male’, means women are both lower to the spiritual male as well as subject to men’s ”objective” gaze.
Objectification of the physical female body has resulted in the ultimate degradation of pornography. Other distortions proliferated such as eating disorders, unrealistic standards and expectations of the ideal female body shape, narcissism and body hatred. All are consequences of the body/mind split.
As religion’s grip has loosened over the last 50 years, and the profit culture grown, men’s bodies have become objects of the fe/male gaze as if they too are (play)things to be demeaned and dishonoured.
Male strippers are commonplace as women vie to become “more like men”. As if being a man means having power at any cost.
Our waterways, our land, our air have become unbearably polluted because of our belief that human consciousness is separate from its habitat.
Modern scientism is driven by the Christian belief that the object can act upon the subject independently and manipulate it without the object being affected. As if objective/subjective isn’t a kind of continuum or force field.
Christian belief drives men to believe unquestionably they are made in the image of god and can behave with impunity just like that god does.
The practice of Christianity’s psychosis has turned us humans into a plague of locusts tearing our habitat apart with our own teeth, leaf by leaf.
The pagan paradigm in which the world is alive with spirit and matter entwined and dancing, seems so sensible and balanced when compared to the idea of a split universe.
The old Hermetic maxim as above so below still rings true and science itself is at last pointing the way to this old truth now.
Who of us hasn’t worshipped in the church of mountains or bush. Whose heart hasn’t been lifted as nature laughs in flowers?
“Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“To see a world in a grain of sand
And Heaven in a wildflower.”
I suggest we humans are part of nature not above it. Our bodies are ourselves, the earth is our mother, the planet is our home.
Once humans worshipped the Earth, the mother of all things. They appeased the many gods of wind, earth, fire and water and nature itself, recognising and honouring the powers of life that were greater than themselves.
Eros, Demeter, Persephone, Pluto, the Furies, Nemesis, Justice, Invention, Creativity – all these life forces were called gods and goddesses and celebrated as part of the human story.
Often pagans humanised these gods or forces in their artistic depictions. Nymphs, fairies, sylphs, elves, mermaids and gnomes were the spirits of the Goddess of Nature.
The tree itself was a symbol of the life force – the great Tree of Life. When Europe was covered in great forests and trees were like living gods. Groves of trees were sacred places.
For the last 2000 years though, Christianity has held the West in the thrall of its words. Its stories are based not on Nature, but on the Word. As delivered by the chaps....
We have been told of a god made in human form who is sacrificed by his heavenly father to save us mortals from ourselves. So this man was tortured, crucified and worshipped on a dead piece of wood in the shape of a cross, so he could transcend his suffering and be resurrected into Heaven with his divine father.
What kind of a deformed father does this to his son?!!! Beloved son no less. As an example of parenting it beggars belief, and yet it has spawned belief, drenched in blood.
Once the cross was a symbol that represented the four great elements. The point of power where the four came together was the ether or fifth element that breathed them all together into consciousness.
But Christianity changed the cross from a living tree into a dead cross upon which we must suffer and die. It is one sick metaphor that has spread a virulent infection into human’s lives.
The earth our cross, exotic to our hands,
We are all nailed by time’s jest,
Who belong to the clayless climate of the mind.”
fromThe Settler by Keith Sinclair
We have been told to think of humanity as suffering in this mortal coil, crucified in our craven, fleshly bodies by gravity and pain. This idea has been immortalised in so many great works of art, in so many beautiful churches with divine architecture over and over again.
Why can’t we celebrate life in all its beauty, all its glory, all its life?!
I don’t want to worship a father who kills his only son - or men who do that over and over again as they take us off to war, kill us in our own homes, rape us on our own turf, so I can be a sacrifice to a murderous god.
Why aren’t our churches the mountains the bush, our own gardens that provide food for us if they are lovingly tended?
What kind of species are we if we think a dead man on a dead piece of wood is a thing to bow down to? A religion whose ritual includes the (symbolic) drinking of his blood and eating of his body?
The ideas of resurrection of the body after death on some Judgement Day, or after the Apocalypse are the fantasy of wish-fulfillment.
They are toxic ideas, not worthy of respect. They don’t lead humanity to viable lifestyles on our beautiful but wasted planet anymore.
I would rather believe in the Land of Oz and the Emerald City, for at least they lead me home to my place on this world at this time.
I have left the worst till last. Arguably, the most detestable aspect of Christianity is their treatment of womanhood, and by extension our children.
There are two parts to Christian woman-hating.
The first is the extraordinary story of a Virgin Mother. Amongst the teeming multitudes of men in the bible stories, only one woman manages a look-in part - the mother of the son of god.
A virgin mother is a vicious idea that is designed to make women feel ashamed of their sexuality and birth-giving bodies. It substitutes an unrealistically desirable role model to support them in becoming subservient vessels of the Lord (and by extension their fathers and husbands.)
|Madonna by Sassoferrato|
The earlier biblical myths are where this woman-hating begins.
Eve was the original woman who rather than being celebrated and loved as the fertile creatrix of the human species, is said to be forged by the masculine god Jehovah out of her partner Adam’s rib!
This malignant image of the ‘nature’ of women is still deeply embedded in the modern psyche and has been poisoning male /female relationships for 2000 years.
In even earlier Jewish scriptures, Eve’s mother Lilith was banished from civilised discourse because she wanted to lie on top of her partner when having sex. O la la.
Christians and Jews alike have regaled us for centuries with horror stories of her ongoing wickedness – she became a witch who ate babies!
In the later myths, the Christian Mary however, is a wonderfully compliant woman who didn’t have sex yet conceived a baby quite independent of her nasty body. Mary was long-suffering, obedient, sweet and silent.
Another Mary is named in the New Testament stories – Mary Magdalene.
We real women get to choose between the two Marys – one is a Virgin and one a Whore.
|Mary Magdalene by Ambosius Benson|
What they tell us is that she did travel with Jesus and witnessed the crucifixion and resurrection.
But the ever-popular version has associated her with the “woman in the city who was a sinner” (Luke 7:37) who washed the feet of Jesus, wiped them with her own hair and anointed his body with costly perfume. There is no scriptural basis for this old popular belief. But since when does propaganda bear any relation to actual events…
The rich sensual imagery surrounding her hair and perfume have formed a wonderful platform for woman-hating myth-makers to spread the word about the way women should be perceived. Mary Magdalene has long been used as a culprit for sexual sinning.
As a whore, she performs a useful counterpoint function to the purity of Mary the Virgin Mother. The impure female body can only be a vessel for the son of god’s birth, as long as she remains in the realms of male fantasy. In the real world, a female body has menstruation, leaks bodily fluids, pulses with passion. In the real world, her female body is a gateway to hell.
Tertullian, an early Church father informed women “You are the devil’s gateway.”
|Mary Magdalene by Georges de la Tour|
These two prototypes of the good chaste woman and the evil sensual woman have straitjacketed all western women for 2000 years.
Female sexuality threatens the Christian fathers so much that the Catholics made celibacy a necessary rule for their priesthood. Since the early ‘Mother’ Church, women have never been allowed near a priest’s skirts themselves.
Christian women should comport themselves as if they have no body or sexuality. Female’s bodies are just too tempting for men otherwise. Shame and guilt have been the paramount weapons of oppression in this long struggle by Christianity against women. (although an Inquisition or three, torture, rape and murder work a treat too)
As a young woman I discovered how an illegitimate pregnancy became my personal, shameful stain. Breaking the taboo of sexual curiosity was a sin of the highest magnitude, and of course any resulting child must be also covered in shameful secrecy. “Illegitimate” means “criminal’ or ‘illegal; bastard a form of abuse.
Women have made a good fist of being dutiful Mary’s – when they’re not being the Magdalenes.
Damned Whores and God’s Police is a wonderful title of a 1975 feminist book written by an Australian author Anne Summers.
In Kiwiland we are particularly afflicted by female authorities who believe they are god’s police. Ann Tolley, Judith Collins, Paula Bennet - in fact any female in the National party cabinet - do a pretty damn fine job in carrying through this role modelling.
But all of us women can easily fall into the trap of this deeply embedded role. It gives us a voice normally not otherwise heard in the social discourse.
It’s tempting and easy to become a moral guardian.
We can hear ourselves playing this role when we become the “mother” of our partner, or when we complacently parrot punitive, conventional mores at our own or others’ children, or when we smugly mouth off at other’s ‘bad’ behaviour – it’s women who most successfully and shrilly fall into being good old god’s police.
Paula Bennett standing on her high horse, in charge of the nations’ solo mother’s finances, is a good example.
And if we’re not being a ‘good’ mother, then we’re certainly a whore and damned.
Sexual knowhow is not celebrated in a woman but is an insult. We’re called sluts, twats, bitches, witches, bimbos, hussies, tramps, slappers, hoes, floozies, the village bike, and then there’s chick, bird, dog, hen, bitch, vixen, cougar, kitty, pussy, nag, porker, goose, bunny, beaver….
There are precious few male equivalents of words such as these.
In fact the worst word anyone can call anyone in this whoremongering world is cunt. The place from which we are all born has become a taboo word of the worst possible kind.
Mother Mary obviously didn’t have a cunt.
I lay the blame on this topsy-turvy state directly at the door of crazed Christian ideology that tells us that a woman’s body is disgusting and shameful, that birthing and fucking can only be sanctioned by Christian rules and regulations.
In considering if and how we can ever break free of the monotheistic and misogynistic religions’ tenacious grip on our hearts and minds, I was heartened by a recent study published by the NZ Herald on May 13th 2015 about the state of religion in Aotearoa today.
The research states that 55% fewer Kiwis identify with a faith since 2006 although Auckland figures are up, due to the new immigrant populations of Muslims and migrant groups.
New Zealand-born have high levels of non-religion and disaffiliation from religion.
In Wellington – the “goddless” capital of New Zealand, half the population says they have no religion.
The earthquakes in Christchurch failed to bring people back to god – Christianity lost 16.5% of the flock between 2006 and 2013 and 50.5% more said they did not affiliate with any religion.
In the main the wealthier are the ones rejecting religion and the poor are still supporting its shared community benefits. The poor have the most to gain from religious belief, with community comfort and sustenance in difficult times and significant financial benefits.
Self-interest obviously plays its part in the belief systems. Religion offers comfort and community to the impoverished and oppressed.
Our own family traditions - as well as our Kiwi reluctance to question authority of any kind - all feed into this complex question of why we believe what we do about god.
I would suggest after the attention to a new flag dies down, we focus on changing our National Anthem. Kiwis are no longer comfortable at the feet of this “God of Nations”.
In fact this god has failed spectacularly to bring bonds of love and harmony to the nations of the world, let alone our little islands in the mighty Pacific Ocean.
That Judeo-Christian god has made war and brought little peace for millennia.
Let’s have recognition of this collective crisis of faith. Let’s question this authoritarian figment of our imagination.
Its deep waters birthed Aotearoa – Land of the Long White Clouds - and are the source of food, refreshment and communication.
And while we’re at it, we could pay respectful obeisance to the gods of the air, the birds and all flying creatures; homage to the fire of warmth, light and inspiration; and offer gratitude to our Mother Earth, this beautiful blue planet we call our home.
We can no longer afford the high cost of believing in ideas that are killing our species and the very planet itself.